News, On campus

White Ribbon TN aims to bring men into the conversation in preventing gender-based violence

Tenkia Burgess, Andy Burgess and Leisa Loftis promote White Ribbon Day to bring awareness to domestic violence. Photo by Bee Goodman.

Preventing men’s violence against women is what the first-ever chapter of White Ribbon TN aims to do.

Executive Director Andy Burgess explained that the majority of men believe that violence against women and children is never acceptable. 

The purpose of White Ribbon TN is to grow a community that invites men to be part of a movement to end gender-based violence,” he said. 

He and several others posted up at Tennessee Tech’s Roaden University Center to spark conversation on campus to get students talking about gender-based violence and how they — especially the males — can play a part in prevention.

Tenika Burgess — Andy’s wife, co-founder of White Ribbon TN and an academic counselor at the university — explained a little how White Ribbon Tn came to be through her husband’s support of women.

“The seeds have been there for a while, and then he has friendships with women who are survivors of abuse,” she said. “As a man, Andy was always going to these events like ‘Take Back the Night’ and human trafficking awareness events. Showing up to these places where women and girls are advocating for themselves to not be abused, and we’d look around and see he is the only dude there. You think, ‘What’s this about?’ And we see that is our problem.”

Tenika said change does not start from the top after referencing recent local events where a judge was suspended by the Board of Judicial Conduct for his alleged abuse of women who appeared in his court.

“Just seeing what happens in politics in our communities and how the good ‘ole boy system is still here, what do you do to take that down?” she said. “You can’t do it from the top. It has to come from the bottom where we start to have these conversations. Talk to college students, guys in fraternities and on sports teams. Ask them how they would treat their sister, mom or aunt. If somebody was abusing them, would you step in?”

“At the end of the day, we’re not out here saying men are garbage,” Tenika added. “Most men are pretty decent human beings and wouldn’t stand for anyone being hurt.”


Andy said White Ribbon TN is about men having the courage to stand up rather than being a passive bystander when women are getting abused.

“Men hold each other accountable, and that is why this is so powerful,” he said.

Andy, also referencing the suspension of the local judge who subsequently was unseated by a female opponent, said that people from all sides came together.

“That’s when I knew we had to do something. That was our launch date for this,” he said. “Change was a requirement. So much abuse stems from privilege and entitlement. Violence is always a choice, and it is never okay. So many Tennessee men are against gender-based violence.”

Andy said the founders began searching to find a model for their organization and found something similar in White Ribbon Australia.

“They kind of guided us and helped set us up,” he said.

Thursday night, Cookeville Mayor Laurin Wheaton signed a proclamation in support of White Ribbon TN as a part of worldwide initiative against gender-based violence.

“The White Ribbon Day campaign believes that the majority of men wish to make a positive contribution toward ending this violence,” she said. “By reimagining manhood we can break down the rigid gender roles and power dynamics that contribute to and foster gender-based violence.”